My friend talked about Honest Ed’s like it was the Holy Land of Toronto. I might be exaggerating, but there was definitely an undeniable buildup to what I can only now refer to as one of the most mind-boggling places I’ve ever visited. Part dollar store, part flea mart, with a dash of yard sale and a hefty pinch of exploring your recently departed great aunt’s spooky attic, Honest Ed’s is 160,000 square feet of the very definition of garish bargain bin. The brainchild of “Honest” Ed Mirvish, a self-made man whose impoverished life during the Depression Era taught him valuable lessons (many of which are scribed in his best-selling biography, also available at Honest Ed’s) Honest Ed’s is decorated with the head shots, posters and playbills of Canada’s men and women of the stage, an ode to Ed’s life as a theater producer.
Tourists flock from all over the planet to visit Honest Ed’s and locals swear by it. As for me? Honest Ed’s is a place and experience I will never forget.
I wanted to partake in some official Toronto garden excursion while I was visiting, and Spadina House caught my attention over its more infamous neighbor, Casa Loma, for its picture perfect early twentieth century preservation. This is a true manor home that was once lived in by the influential Austin family and the house is currently tricked out to reflect the inter-war years of the 1920s-1930s. In other words, this has RACHAEL MUST VISIT written all over it.
Spice and I arrived a little early for the next tour, so we walked around the grounds in the backyard.
Spadina House Gardens
We were lucky enough to come on a slow enough day that our tour was just the two of us – so we had the tour guide all to ourselves!
Art Nouveau Angel
Formal Dining Room
Lady Austin’s Sitting Room
Art Nouveau Vase
My little friend I met while leaving Spadina House:
I’ll call him Chip.
All tour information including hours of operation, maps, TTC directions, info and ticket pricing are at the official City of Toronto: Spadina House.
It’s my goal to get through all of my Toronto eats before the end of the year, so at least I can say it only took me 6 or so months. Ha. Anyway. Both Mitzi’s Cafe and Mitzi’s Sister was talked up greatly by Zuzu, who was very eager to make sure I got to try out everything she knew I’d enjoy. Wasting no time to whisk me off to their local favorites, G & Z took me to Mitzi’s Sister on day two. Here is an excerpt from my travel journal on the day I ate at Mitzi’s Sister:
3:30pm At Poutini’s – trying very hard to resist poutine until I’m with Zooz. Having Boylan creme soda and trying not to listen to this bratty American girl bitch about Canada – weather, social services and how the government uses money. “Montreal is a dirty city.” ( … ) I’m going to steal their seats. OK, no. Lesbians did. And I don’t thrown down with lesbians.
All the Toronto chicks are smoking, and very unique in style.
Z met up with me and we popped in and out of stores. There was a fab cheap store with cute clothes – I bought a long sleeve. We bought our Batman burlesque tix and then G picked up up to go to dinner.
Riveting stuff, this, don’t you think Jack Keroauc would be pleased? Or am I not just not drinking enough?
Beer battered fish and chips for Mr. G
Sweet Potato Quesadilla for Zuzu
Hot roast beef sandwich for me
I’m usually a bit more daring, but for whatever reason I was just craving a classic. I think it was the promise of gravy; ever since I knew I was going to Canada I got a hankering for gravy (it goes with the lure of poutine). Whatever the case, this sandwich hit the comfort food spot just perfectly. The gravy on top of the sandwich? So simple a gesture absolutely made this. I appreciated teh fresh steamed green beans & carrots and would not have complained if the garlic mashed potatoes had just a wee bit more garlic.
Zuzu’s sweet potato quesadilla equally frightened and intrigued me (as food ought to from time to time). It was sweet, savory and spicy all at once. Intensely delicious.
G’s beer battered Haddock was crispy and tasty and the Yukon gold potato fries were a nice change up from standard russet.
Would I recommend/return to Mitzi’s Sister? Yes. It’s a step up from standard pub grub but with a menu that has both challenging and familiar dishes. Doesn’t push the envelop, just gently nudges it.
1554 Queen Street West
Toronto city is full of art. Art is EVERYWHERE. It’s on the streets, it’s on the sides of buildings, sidewalks and of course, in galleries. The bigger galleries, while tempting to visit, are costly. Smaller galleries around Parkdale, where I was staying with friends, are typically free or ask for a modest donation of your choosing. They offer the works of young and/or not-as-widely-known artists. Such a gallery is North Gallery, which at the time of my visit, was featuring the work of high school students at a local arts academy. Here is some of their work.
Conventions of language – Claude Watson, Cindy Huang
Anatomical Studies – grade 12
Water Color Cards (grade 10, artist name unknown)
Jar Observances (Kristin Xie, grade 10)
Water Color Lego
Product Painting – grade 11
I would love to give you the address for this gallery, however, all Google searches for it have turned up fail. Either I copied the name down incorrectly, it’s been renamed/closed, or it was a smaller gallery attached to a bigger gallery/store that I did not pay attention to. Either way, it’s on Queen Street West before the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Near Poutini’s House of Poutine.
Why is all of the good stuff in Toronto? Huh? Polish food, Portuguese pastries, customized cookies and now this – this! – the tastiest ice cream I ever did taste. OK, did that totally ruin the surprise for you? I hope not. Let’s proceed.
Greg’s Ice Cream is situated in the heart of Toronto in the Annex district. It is an assuming, no-frills storefront on a busy-ass street in the middle of a noisy city. From looks alone, there is nothing special about Greg’s Ice Cream. OH! Except for that gigantic line winding out the door and down the sidewalk. Yeah, there must be something special about this place after all.
The fanart that decorates Greg’s Ice Cream store
The line was a little insane, but it wasn’t as if Spice and I hadn’t already had dinner (review coming soon!) so we patiently waited as the one-man on duty slung cone after cone for the dozen+ customers. As we got nearer, I could make out the flavors and prayed to the Supernatural Forces of Nature and All that is Good in Food that my top picks would not run out by the time it was my turn to order. Luckily, my prayers were answered.
Behold, all that is good in life.
To the untrained eye, that looks a lot like vanilla and chocolate ice cream, doesn’t it? FOOLED YOU because it’s actually toasted marshmallow and strawberry chocolate! I don’t know enough about the food sciences to figure it out, but the toasted marshmallow actually tasted like a marshmallow that had been medium-toasted over an open flame. HOW WAS THIS ACHIEVED? I will never know. The strawberry chocolate genuinely tasted like fresh, plump and juicy strawberries dipped in a creamy, thick chocolate milkshake. It was ice cream heaven.
My friend Spice was thoroughly impressed with her choice, pistachio:
Notice the lack of sickly colored fake green? Yeah, that’s fresh, that is. Spice loved the juxtapose of the creamy texture of the ice cream and the crunch of the pistachios, which had just a pinch of salt to really give it depth.
Doing a little homework I found out that Greg’s has not only been around for roughly 30 years, but is the first of its kind to serve premium, all-natural ice cream in Toronto. I have no doubt it will continue to thrive for many more decades to come.
Would I return to Greg’s Ice Cream? Yes! I actually regret not making the effort to return to Greg’s before I left. Next time I’m in Toronto, though, I’ll definitely be swinging by. Thoroughly recommended!
The Glass of Win Non-Patent Pie Rating System gives Greg’s Ice Cream five out of five pies!
Everybody wants to have a neighborhood joint where they know your name. Someplace with a great atmosphere, superb staff that become like family, and of course, great food. My friends Zuzu and G have such a place in The Cadillac Lounge (affectionately known as The Caddy). It’s where they go to chill out with some drinks after work, people watch over the course of a lazy Sunday, listen to some great live music – hell, it’s the place they got hitched at! I’d love to have a place like this in my neighborhood. It was a pretty unanimous decision that this is where I’d be dining out my first night in Toronto.
A new chef was in charge and the menu had been revamped from simple diner food to gourmet diner food. Don’t mess with classics is what I say, but I still had to give it a go. I best be happy with what I get, though as rumor had it that the new chef is a bit on the didactic side and would not permit any substitutions with his food.
Zuzu: Vegetarian Burger. Vegetable patty, grilled vegetables, tomato, red onion, artisan bread. Side salad.
Mister G: Three Cheese Grill with Fries. Swiss, smoked cheddar, provolone, tomatoes (he got it without tomatoes), onion, bacon, artisan bread.
Myself: Baked Crabby Mac n’ Cheese. Crab, roasted grape tomato, broccoli, and macaroni in a rich creamy cheese sauce. Verdict: I would have swapped tomatoes/broccoli for mushrooms/peas or mushrooms/asparagus. The tomatoes are too close to the texture of macaroni and cheese to be complimentary. Otherwise, I loved it.
Spice was there with us and ordered a veggie wrap. They gave her poutine, which went against her no-land-meat & Kosher diet, so it had to be returned. Our server was not the best of listeners and was painfully slow. As neither Zuzu nor G recognized her, we assumed she was new and in training.
The following Sunday, G and I returned to the Caddy for the famous Sunday brunch. The Cadillac Lounge patio is something to marvel at. It’s a split-level deck nearly as large as my apartment. Unfortunately I was unable to obtain really good shots of it, but this is the ideal space for people watching on a lazy weekend day.
G went with The Standard – which I don’t know if it’s called this all over North America or strictly Canada but it’s your basic two eggs, toast, bacon and potatoes kind of breakfast.
For myself, I had a tough time deciding (as I usually do when it comes to breakfast food) but finally settled on the Eggs Benny Hill: Two poached eggs with grilled back bacon on an English muffin, drizzled with Hollandaise, served with home fries and fruit. It was the “back bacon” that reeled me in; though I don’t consider myself a bacon connoisseur, I do love to try the various cuts of meat different countries have. Plus, the whole “what the hell really is Canadian bacon?” Well, it’s this hunk of meat:
Just look at those slabs! They’re thick and meaty, almost like a pork chop and definitely not at all what we refer to as bacon (streaky bacon) here in the USA. Crazy bad for you and even crazier delicious. The home fries were yummy as well.
Would I return to the Cadillac Lounge? Yes! There just wasn’t enough time to enjoy the other menu items that caught my eye (Andre the Giant French Toast, Fat Elvis’ Favourite, chicken wings)
Would I recommend the Cadillac Lounge? Absolutely. It’s a great place to have a cold drink, an above average meal and either hang out and relax or enjoy one of the many live entertainment options they have on any given night. The serve may be a little slow going at times, but it’s all definitely worth the wait.
The Cadillac Lounge
1296 Queens Street West
Other than gobbling up poutine, my only other food related goal while visiting Toronto was to try as many different kinds of food as I possibly could, especially the cuisine from a variety of cultures and ethnicity’s. Indian food is all over Toronto, but for whatever reason roti took off in Toronto like tikka masala did in the other 9/10ths of the world. This boggles my mind because here in Los Angeles I have only known roti as a sort of Indian tortilla. As I understand roti, it’s a flat, thin, round bread and sometimes I see it at the Farmer’s Market and eateries thinly stuffed, quesadilla-style with items like spinach. I like it toasted with raita. Anyway – you can understand my curiosity as to how this traditional snack/side dish got so hugely popular in Toronto that entire restaurants are dedicated to it.
Bacchus Roti is situated around the corner from where I was staying in Toronto and came highly recommended by the Internet as well as my hosts. The day before I was set to try it out, I popped into the restaurant to see if they had a to-go menu I could look at and get an idea of what I might order. The only menu in their modest facility was a blackboard fixated on the wall. Patrons order at the counter and can either get their roti to go or they can eat in the posh, post-modern designed dining area.
Though there was no to-go menus, I spied “shrimp curry roti” on the blackboard menu and as I walked out I took a leisure glance at the diners. Behemoth looking square tortilla things were being torn at with knives and forks – giving me a clear image but still mentally dumbfounded idea on the Canadian interpretation of roti. OK. It’s an Indian burrito? Yes, my friends told me, like an Indian burrito.
I returned to Bacchus the next day, ready to gorge on the roti-burrito-monstrosity. It was a humid day and I had many errands to attend to, so I’d need a meal to keep me going but not knock me out cold. I was already prepared to only eat half of what I ordered and take the rest back home before starting out my big day. It was the same menu from the previous day (as near as I could tell) and shrimp curry & potato roti still sounded good, so I ordered that (medium on the spice scale) along with a glass of tap water. I’m gestured at to have a seat.
This is what is brought to me:
Mystery meal in paper!
The exterior has a crepe-like texture, very delicate and savory. The shrimp was plentiful and tender but that is where my good opinion stops. The potatoes were so overcooked they’re positively mush and the curry was so overwhelming there was no other discernible flavor. This is the most heartbreaking because Indian food should be a freaking Bollywood movie happening to your taste buds; they are all about the spice (and I don’t mean “heat” I mean “flavor”). There was just nothing but curried mush. I would have loved if there were a vegetable or two thrown in and the seasoning had been better managed.
Also, my water never showed up.
I took half of this back to my friends place where I let them have free range over the leftovers. It could have been the humidity, but the roti left a heavy, gross feeling in my stomach all day long and it wasn’t until I forced myself to eat some dinner (delivered sushi) at my friend Spice’s apartment that I felt better again.
Would I eat at Bacchus Roti Shop again? No. Though I’d love to say it was all Bacchus, I did try another Indian related dish (coconut curry dosa) at a totally separate restaurant later that week and found it inedible as well. It was the overuse of curry and not enough variety of spices that I’m used to eating. As my friend Zuzu was able to eat both the other half of the roti and this curry dosa dish, I am theorizing that it is a regional palate difference more than inadequate cooking (though those mushy potatoes were really sad).
Bacchus Roti Shop
1376 Queen St W.
We ate a hearty breakfast on the morning we embarked on our Niagara Falls journey so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that my friends Zuzu, Mr. G and I finally started talking about our next meal. We’d already hit up the falls and Clifton Hill, which is where we decided to sit off to the side on a grassy knoll and use a little Google-Fu to find out where a decent place to eat might be at. In big tacky, tourist towns like Niagara Falls it is difficult to know what’s worth your money so a little research might be necessary.
Our efforts were rewarded with Antica Pizzeria, which I had spotted just beyond where we were sitting. It had some pretty great reviews and was looking to be an affordable, delicious investment. We opted to dine alfresco as it was a nice, sunny day with a slight breeze. Had the weather been unfavorable, though, there was plenty of room with four dining areas to pick from, including traditional red and white checkerboard topped tables:
To private dining room for events:
Though the menu had everything from pasta dishes to panini sandwiches, all three of us went for our own napoletane wood fired pizza.
Zuzu: Grilled vegetable and goat cheese – Grilled eggplant, peppers, zucchini mixed with garlic, olive oil and topped with goat cheese. $14.99
Myself: Quattro Stagioni – Tomato sauce, cheese, mushroom, prosciutto (I replaced the ham), anchovies, oregano, olive oil. $13.99
Vegetable & Goat Cheese:
Can you guess why I didn’t review these individually? Yes, that’s right.
Verdict: Unanimously, universally, unequivocally delicious! All three of us could not stop talking about how wonderful our individual pizzas were. I never had a pizza that divvied up its sections for one specific topping, letting that topping be the star of its own show. It made being able to order a pizza with anchovies on it very accessible as they are usually too salty to tolerate all over a pizza. The Quattro Stagioni is easily in the top seven of my favorite pizza’s ever consumed.
The service was fairly quick and attentive, though we were having a lazy Niagara Falls adventure day so I can’t really be considered a valuable source if you’re under a strict time crunch.
Would I return to Antica Pizzeria? Yes! In fact, I’m determined to try the Antica Pizzeria here in Los Angeles (Marina del Ray) and see if it’s on par with its Canadian sister.
Would I recommend Antica Pizzeria? Yes, because I believe Antica appeals to the variety of clientele that Niagara Falls sees – families with kids of all ages, vegetarians, couples, groups such as wedding rehearsal parties or birthdays, friends and budget diners.
5785 Victoria Avenue
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3L6, Canada
When I knew I was set for Toronto there was one word in my mind: poutine. For the unenlightened: Poutine is a Canadian invention consisting of a layer of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. The dish originated in Quebec but is now considered a Canadian staple of pub grub. I first saw poutine on the Quebec episode of No Reservations and instantly fell into epicurean obsession. Psst: this is your go-to hangover cure!
Knowing I’d be demanding the best poutine, my friend Zuzu set off to hunt down the best of the best in preparation for my arrival. She kept going back to Poutini’s and Stampede, both in her neighborhood. After browsing Poutini’s menu a couple of weeks before my trip, I knew this would be the first place I would patronize.
As you can see from above, their menu caters to a variety of tastes and diet lifestyles. My friend Zuzu praised their vegetarian gravy poutine.
Mentally I had my order down and ready to go weeks before taking that first step into their establishment, so on one sunny day in early June I sounded confident like I was already a poutine pro.
My Order: Traditional poutine with beef gravy (teeny weeny size) and Boylan’s Root Beer
I must dissect this concoction bit by bit.
French Fries: Top class. Skin-on, crispy exterior with hot, soft but not mush innards.
Cheese Curds: First of all, white cheddar = automatic bonus. However, they were so creamy I just wanted to melt them and drizzle them on top of the fries instead. I almost feel like they hinder themselves because they don’t quite taste like they’ve reached their full potential (which would be cheese sauce). Don’t listen to me, though – these are top of the line curds that are shipped in every other day from Mapledale Farm in New York.
Gravy: Now, what I am about to say is purely personal preference but I have unfortunately come to realize that I do not like brown gravy. As far as smooth brown beef gravy’s go, this was superb gravy. But it’s definitely not for me. Perhaps I would have enjoyed their vegetarian gravy, though, as Zuzu did talk that up quite a bit. I’m one for sawmill (white country) gravy and thick, meaty and mushroom-y brown gravy.
Boylan’s root beer is amazing and the perfect beverage to wash down this sinful treat. We’re talking poutine; water is for pussies.
Would I eat at House of Poutine again? Yes, but I’d probably order fries with the roasted garlic mayo dip in lieu of poutine. I would also give their vegetarian gravy a go.
Would I recommend House of Poutine? Absolutely! The folks at Poutini’s put a lot of love and quality control in their ingredients and that counts for a LOT. Just because I did not enjoy poutine overall doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it or want others to avoid it. It’s part of the mosaic that is Canadian food culture.
Poutini’s is located on the bustling Queen Street West in an area of Toronto that has seen some serious gentrification and hip injections in the last five years. It’s counter service only with very limited bar stool seating (You will probably be standing as you eat or waiting in the shadows to pounce on any stool that opens up).
They get bonus points for using biodegradable containers, napkins and utensils – all of which can be easily disposed of using the in-house receptacles.
And don’t worry, House of Poutine, it is me, not you. After giving poutine another go at another yummy place I realized that (insert tearful confession here) poutine just isn’t for me.
Poutini’s House of Poutine
1112 Queen Street West